25+ Tricks of the Trade to Greater Effectiveness and Efficiency

Communication Modalities

Communication Modalities: Source Unknown

I’ll be working with the staff of my favorite preschool (also the school my son attended, and on whose Board of Trustees I sat for four years), the Little School in San Francisco this evening as part of their ongoing staff development program.

While my work is mostly helping senior execs and start-up and leadership teams raise the level of their performance, the same ingredients which imbed that work – efficiency and effectiveness – inform the work of teachers in a preschool.

Here’s the outline of what I’ll be workshopping, including 25+ tips from my 30 years experience in business and from sources such as Craig Jarrow’s “Time Management Ninja,” whose site is a wealth of resources.

If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t know enough about it.” ~ Albert Einstein

Efficiency (doing something well) versus effectiveness (doing the right thing).

There is no one magic bullet for time efficiency and effectiveness; just lots of little bullets. Here are 25 of them:

Do These Things

  1. Use the tools, strategies that work best for you; avoid doing something that doesn’t work for you that works well for someone else.
  2. First things first. If the most important stuff gets done, the less important stuff won’t notice.
  3. A little thought goes a long ways. Abe Lincoln said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Think briefly, then do.
  4. Use a calendar; every to-do has a realistic time slot that is put in your calendar. Record your time. If you can’t put a to-do or event on your calendar, the magic word is “no.”
  5. Look at your next day calendar and week calendar before you retire at night; look at them when you’re ready to wake up.
  6. Budget your time; if you want to spend 60 minutes web surfing or watching March Madness basketball, do it. Just set a timer (and record it on your calendar.)
  7. Batch your time; sequence your tasks. Aggregate similar tasks and do them all at once; think of a best order of how to do things so you reduce time, trips, etc.
  8. Show up early to work, meetings, etc. Bring work to do if you have spare time. Always.
  9. Put projects into well-spaced stages or bites; discovery, design, blueprint and build.
  10. Pace yourself (give yourself percolation time) and give yourself a deadline.
  11. Hold yourself responsible. Suggest that others with whom you work do the same.
  12. Keep a – as in “one” – to-do list. Keep it visible.


Avoid These Things

  1. Avoid emergencies. Something that happens all the time is not an emergency; it’s a usual.
  2. Taking on too many obligations – Do less and better, not more and worse. The magic word is still no. See calendar above.
  3. Using the less effective communication modality when you should use the more effective communication modality.
  4. Stop checking email every 15 minutes. It won’t go away.
  5. Responding to last minute fire drills. See emergencies above.
  6. Showing up late. See show up early.
  7. Going to (less valuable) meetings that are “nice to go to” when you have “stuff you have to do.”
  8. Letting others crib your timeI can give you 5 minutes now or you can catch time on my calendar later when it’s convenient for you.”

My FavoriteTools

  • Evernote
  • Google Docs – share and track documents
  • Paper notebook of some sort that is flexible (light, you can easily tear out pages, and it can be used for other purposes).
  • Calendar
  • Pen and highlighter (helps human remember if they write things down, even if they never look at the notes again).
  • The planned drive by; Leslie’s board going away comment – “Like my mother – he always seemed to be present.” Think about the optimum time and place to bump into people so you can batch a bunch of small transactions. See batch your tasks and sequence your time above.

Hell, there are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something!” -Thomas Edison


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.